Mushroom farming providing a new direction for some impacted by COVID and drought

A fascination with fungi is helping Queenslanders earn an income after losing work to COVID-19 and the drought.

Key points:

  • Interest in mushroom farming is growing, as new growing techniques emege
  • Small-scale growers are supplying them to local markets and restaurants
  • There’s increasing consumer demand for locally grown produce

Tucked away about 13 kilometres from the Mackay CBD, Samara Galloway and Bret Garrity grow mushrooms in a shipping container, housing stacks of white buckets flooded in blue light. 

A young couple hold buckets with pink oyster mushrooms growing out of them. Their faces are illuminated with purple light.
Bret Garrity and Samara Galloway started growing mushrooms after their work hours were cut due to COVID-19.(ABC Rural: Melanie Groves)

It is a far cry from what most vegetable farms look like — but everything has been set up for a reason. 

“It’s humidity-controlled with a humidifier that’s pumping a whole lot of water into the air,” Ms Galloway said.

“In a natural environment, when they’re growing on the forest floor, the trees would be pulling all of the red light out of the sunlight and it’s the blue light that’s getting to the forest floor.”

“So, all the conditions are trying to replicate their conditions in the natural environment.”

A close up view of an oyster mushroom. It's cream coloured and wavy, growing on a bucket. Illuminated with purple lights
Samara Galloway and Bret Garrity grow oyster mushrooms along with other varieties.(ABC Rural: Melanie Groves)

They were working in tourism when the coronavirus pandemic struck and decided to use new-found time to pursue their hobby of growing mushrooms. 

“I’ve always been interested in fungi, from hiking and travelling around the world,” Mr Garrity said. 

“We really enjoy it and find fungi fascinating and how important it is for the environment.”

Drought-hardy crop

Further south on the Queensland coast at Tinana near Maryborough, Kim and David Hunt started growing mushrooms last year as an alternative crop that uses less water. 

“We had 2,000 lime trees and we rely on rain for irrigation and with the drought we haven’t had the dam water to irrigate the limes, so we looked at another crop,” he said.

Two older people smile while holding a cardboard tray of mushrooms.
Kim and Dave Hunt started growing mushrooms as the drought was impacting their lime orchard. (ABC Rural: Megan Hughes)

The couple built six coldrooms next to their lime orchard and harvested their first crop in October. 

Like Mr Garrity and Ms Galloway,  the Hunts’ focus is to supply locally. 

“Our business plan right from the start was to supply locally to the Fraser Coast,” Ms Hunt said. 

“We do three markets a week — Nikenbah, Urangan Pier and Maryborough markets and also direct to some restaurants.

“Our idea is to have very fresh, very local and to keep it local — with everything that’s happened with COVID-19, I think a lot of people have seen more value in buying stuff that’s local.” 

Four shelves of mushrooms planted in plastic covered soil stand in a foggy room. The image appears ominous
Mushrooms are grown in very specific environments that are temperature and humidity controlled.(ABC Rural: Megan Hughes)

Trialling exotic varieties

The Hunts mainly grow Swiss brown and white button mushrooms, but they have experimented with different types. 

“We do want to go into other varieties — exotic or gourmet varieties — shiitake, oyster mushrooms, lion’s mane,” Mr Hunt said. 

A large white mushrooms shaped like a cloud grows from a plastic soil filled bag. It's made up of tiny white filaments
Kim and Dave Hunt are experimenting with different mushroom varieties including the lion’s mane.(ABC Rural: Megan Hughes)

“You can slice that [lion’s mane] and cook it like steak or you can break it apart and it’s a bit like cauliflower and if you mix it in with pasta the texture is stringy like crab or lobster.

“This could be a vegetarian or vegan option in a pasta dish that could have a seafood type flavouring but not have any of the crab or meat in it.” 

In Mackay during the wet season, Mr Garrity and Ms Galloway grew white and pink oyster mushrooms as they can withstand the higher temperatures. 

Ms Galloway said there was increasing demand for sustainable and locally grown produce. 

“This is the future, and we definitely believe that mushrooms have the potential to feed a lot of people,” she said.

“They can be grown in such high-density, low-space urban environments.

“We’re right next to the CBD. We can have a delivery out in half an hour. We’re off-grid with our set-up, our buckets are reusable, we do try to limit our impacts.”

By : Megan Hughes, Melanie Groves and Angel Parsons – ABC Rural

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s